Sondheimer: St. John Bosco beats Corona Centennial in thriller

A football playoff game for the ages between two of Southern California’s titan programs, St. John Bosco and Corona Centennial, came down to one final play with eight seconds left Friday night.

Centennial trailed 43-42 after a one-yard touchdown run by Cornell Hatcher Jr. and went for the win by trying a two-point conversion. St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro called a timeout and sent a clear message to his players.

“We brought the kitchen sink,” he said.

Huskies quarterback Husan Longstreet faked a handoff to Hatcher, briefly slipped while going to his right and was brought to the turf by Braves linebacker Jordan Lockhart, with help from Dutch Horisk. It was the crushing blow that delivered victory to the Braves (11-1) in a Southern Section Division 1 semifinal game and sent them to next Friday’s championship game against Mater Dei at the Coliseum.

“I’m getting too old for this,” Negro said of a game that featured six touchdown passes from St. John Bosco’s Caleb Sanchez and five touchdown runs along with 221 yards rushing on an astounding 45 carries for Centennial’s Hatcher.

“It was 50-50 whether we’d be able to stop them,” Negro said of the two-point conversion attempt.

Lockhart said he just followed directions.

“Do your job,” Lockhart said. “I had to keep the quarterback contained and I did that. Man, these are the games why I came to Bosco. Pressure turns to diamonds.”

The improvement Centennial (9-3) made from the first game, a loss to Mater Dei in August, to Week 13 was impressive. Longstreet’s development, in particular, left the Braves humbled. The junior passed for 285 yards and rushed for 74 yards.

“He’s the best quarterback in the state,” Centennial assistant coach Anthony Catalano said.

Centennial made too many mistakes, though, and that cost it the victory. There was a missed field goal, a missed extra point, two missed two-point conversions and lots of penalties.

“Our kids played their tails off,” Centennial coach Matt Logan said. “It’s a shame there were so many flags thrown.”

It was a wild, entertaining first half for those who enjoy nonstop scoring. The teams combined to score on their first five possessions before St. John Bosco finally emerged with a 28-24 halftime lead. Sanchez had so many open receivers he must have thought he were opening presents on Christmas morning. He had touchdown passes of 23, 62, 65 and 73 yards, completing six of eight passes for 237 yards in the half. Stacy Dobbs caught two of the touchdowns. Sanchez finished 13 for 21 for 328 yards.

Centennial held leads of 21-14 and 24-14 because of its ability to run the ball with Hatcher, who gained 144 yards in 22 carries and scored two touchdowns by halftime. Stops on defense were rare. Both offenses were in peak form. Centennial’s offensive line was creating holes for Hatcher, and Longstreet also was delivering, passing for 202 yards and one touchdown in the first half.

A slow start in the third quarter by St. John Bosco gave the Huskies an opening. Hatcher scored on runs of 11 and two yards for a 36-28 lead. Then St. John Bosco tied the score with 9:22 left in the fourth quarter on a nine-yard catch by Madden Williams and two-point conversion pass to Dobbs. St. John Bosco went ahead 43-36 with 3:29 left when Tommy Maher caught Sanchez’s sixth touchdown pass from four yards out.

There was more drama after the two-point conversion failed. Centennial recovered the ensuing onside kick, but St. John Bosco’s Max Amasio sacked Longstreet two plays later at the 45-yard line to end the game, though Longstreet thought he never went down and started running toward the end zone as players came onto the field.

Logan and Negro have great respect for each other. They both live in Huntington Beach and understand that each stands in the other’s way on the path to winning a Division 1 title.

Centennial defeated St. John Bosco in championship games in 2014 and 2015. The Braves have enjoyed recent success in the matchups, winning 52-14 the previous time they met in the 2019 playoffs.

Now the Braves get to play Mater Dei in what has been an almost yearly second game against their Trinity League rival to decide the Division 1 championship.

It’s the sixth time in seven seasons they will meet for the title.

Last year St. John Bosco beat Mater Dei for the championship, also winning that one by stopping a two-point conversion try.

And in league play this season, St. John Bosco defeated the Monarchs 28-0 on Oct. 13.

“Mater Dei, we’re coming,” Lockhart chanted while walking away.

Friday was another classic between St. John Bosco and Centennial, who met for the Southern Section Open Division basketball championship last March, and that game ended in dramatic fashion too, with Centennial winning on a dunk as the buzzer sounded.

This time it was the St. John Bosco football team coming out on top.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.